LOS ANGELES (CN) – Michael Jackson’s estate sued ABC Inc. and the Walt Disney Company Wednesday, claiming it did not authorize the use of the late musician’s music videos and songs for a documentary that aired earlier this month.
The two-hour “The Last Days of Michael Jackson” documentary featured at least 30 different copyrighted works owned by Jackson’s estate, including “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “The Girl is Mine,” “Human Nature” and “Leave Me Alone,” according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court.
While the documentary did show the King of Pop’s music, the lawsuit slammed the film as “simply a mediocre look back at Michael Jackson’s life and entertainment career” that did not focus on his last days.
It did include footage from rehearsals for what would have been Jackson’s “This Is It” tour, which became the music documentary of the same name released posthumously.
The lawsuit, filed by Howard Weitzman with Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, called the use of the copyrighted material “astounding” and said ABC never approached the estate to license the material.
“Disney’s fair use argument is patently absurd,” wrote Weitzman. “Even setting aside Disney’s blatant hypocrisy given its notorious history regarding third party uses of its own copyrights, Disney’s argument here is one that would probably make even the founders of Napster pause.”
Representatives from Jackson’s estate say they sent two notices to the Walt Disney Company’s general counsel and other legal representatives on March 22 and 23 this year.
“Disney ignored the Estate’s letters,” the 18-page complaint states. “To this day, it has never bothered to respond.”
An ABC News spokesperson said in an email that the company has not yet reviewed the complaint, adding that, “The ABC News’ documentary explored the life, career and legacy of Michael Jackson, who remains of great interest to people worldwide, and did not infringe on his estate’s rights.”
Several entities, including MJJ Productions, Inc., Optimum Productions, Inc., and New Horizons Trust III – all of which are plaintiffs in the lawsuit – make up Jackson’s estate.
Jackson died in 2009 at the age of 50. His death was ruled a homicide due to a combination of drugs prescribed by his physician Dr. Conrad Murray, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter in 2010. Entertainment giant AEG Live was found not responsible for Jackson’s death in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the singer’s family.
In 2013, a Los Angeles jury unanimously exonerated AEG for hiring Murray.